TRANSPORTATION

NJ Transit Policy Limits Homeless Access to Waiting Rooms

By David Cruz
Correspondent

There was a steady rain falling in Hoboken this morning. When you’re out on the street, the rain can be more of an enemy than the cold a lot of times. For the homeless here, this is a typical day to find refuge, a place to keep yourself and, often, all your wordly possessions, dry. But here, in the historic waiting room – restored at a cost of $10 million – where the homeless are finding themselves unwelcome guests.

“I feel like they’re really harassing you,” said John Mendola as he sat in the waiting room at the terminal. “I mean it’s constant, never ending. I mean it’s like this guy here, sleeping, they’ll come in with a dog and let the dog bark at you; I mean you almost have a heart attack waking up with a dog barking at you. They treat you pretty bad.”

A policy currently under review by NJ Transit limits seating at its waiting rooms in Hoboken, Atlantic City, Secaucus and Newark to two hours, the theoretical longest time it would take to wait for one of the agency’s oft-delayed trains. No one from NJ Transit was available to talk to us today but an agency statement said:

“The intent of the seating policy is to ensure that our ticketed customers have access to seating while waiting for their travel.”

The waiting room in Hoboken is seldom filled, though, and seats are generally easy to find. Many believe the policy is intended to keep the homeless from congregating where commuters might not want them. Muhammad – who pointed out that today is the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks arrest for refusing to sit in the back of a bus – engages in the daily cat and mouse game that this policy has created. He says it’s an extension of a societal mindset.

“You take a man; you rob him of everything and then you put him out in the pasture and now he’s got to go from place to place trying to find refuge from the cold,” said Muhammad.

Riaz Wahid is a homeless advocate in Jersey City. He works with a program that distributes 90 meals a night to homeless men and women here and in Hoboken. He says transit agencies can sometimes make helping the homeless more difficult than it needs to be.

“Every day we serve 90 meals to this population and, once we started doing it, they put a notice that nobody’s allowed to sit here, we saw the signs, so then we have to go out and bring them. We give a shout; they come out, and then we serve the meals like that,” he said. “Then they brought in the new policy that you have to be a ticketed passenger to sit there. I really hope we do better. It is unfortunate. These people are very unfortunate. This is a basic need.”

Mendola recounts the treatment he’s received at the hands of police. “They know a lot of homeless come here and sit and they try to stay warm. They leave the doors open so that we have nowhere to go.”

Fortunately, the temperature has been mild but as winter approaches and temperatures start to fall, the affects of this new policy – well-intentioned or misguided – will soon be felt.